Fears that the bubbles might be outlawed were fuelled on Monday when Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson said that they were among lockdown measures which were being kept under “constant review”.
But asked later what restrictions could be tightened in response to worsening data on hospitalisations and deaths, the health secretary specifically excluded changes to support bubbles and childcare bubbles.
Support bubbles can be formed between two households where one of them is made up of an adult living alone; a single parent living with children; an adult living with an adult or child needing continuous care; parents of a child aged under one; or children aged 16-17 living without any adult supervision.
Members of a bubble of this kind are permitted to meet without social distancing, including inside one another’s homes.
The same applies to people in a childcare bubble, allowing those living with a child aged under 14 to provide or receive childcare from one other household.
With coronavirus cases soaring, recent reports have suggested that ministers could consider scaling back the bubble schemes.
When asked whether bubbles may be dropped, Mr Johnson’s official spokesperson said: “We keep all our measures under constant review. We don’t want to make the rules any tougher, but we obviously need to keep the latest data under review.”
The spokesperson gave a similar reply when asked about the potential introduction of curfews; closure of nurseries and places of worship; tighter restrictions on exercise; and mandatory use of masks.
But Mr Hancock told a Downing Street press conference: “I can rule out removing the bubbles that we have in place. The childcare bubbles, the support bubbles, are very important and we’re going to keep them.
“We know how important they are to people and they’re an important part of the system that we’ve got to support people whilst also having these tough measures that are necessary.
“The bubbles are for individual specific people. If you bubble with somebody, that is the person you bubble with. You can’t keep moving bubbles – that is very important. Somebody in your bubble essentially becomes part of your household.
“It is important people stick to the same bubble, but the bubble policy will stay. I want to be absolutely crystal clear about that.”
Speaking during a visit to a vaccination centre in Bristol, Mr Johnson warned that further lockdown measures may be required if people do not follow the rules.
“We’re going to keep the rules under constant review,” said the PM. “Where we have to tighten them, we will.
“We have rules in place already which, if they are properly followed, we believe can make a huge, huge difference.
“It’s now that people need to focus … when they’re out shopping, whether they’re buying cups of coffee in the park or whatever it happens to be, they need to think about spreading the disease.”
He added: “Now is the moment for maximum vigilance, maximum observance of the rules.
“Of course, if we feel that things are not being properly observed then we may have to do more.”